“Knowing many stories is wisdom. Knowing no stories is ignorance. Knowing only one story is death.” – Knowing Only One Story, John Michael Greer.
When I started Hermitix one the major things I wanted to achieve was to have such an eclectic array of guests that as many stories as possible were heard. I’d seen multiple left-wing podcasts, a few right-wing ones and a lot of ‘hot-take’ podcasts. These all bored me, why you ask? The answer is simple; they all only knew one story. Their entire world view could be filtered through a single lens. Often these lenses take odd and unexpected forms. Some people funnel their entire existence through Marxism, others Kant, but then again, some people will find the meaning of everything to be in the study of UFOs or microbiology. Sometimes it’s always chemicals, other times it’s always spirits or outside forces. The point being – as Greer states quite clearly – that viewing life this way is death. Not a literal death, but an intellectual one.
We all have that one friend who can find a way to fit whatever it is you’re talking about into their latest interest or phase, what they don’t realize however is that we live in a world of communication, production and consumption. Everything communicates, whether parasitically as an invader, as amicably as a gesture. Certain things are antagonizing others and certain things are helping others. Sometimes X will produce Y, sometimes Y will consume Z, and on and on it goes.
The problem with a single story is that it is always going to be utopian, it’s a false limitation applied over various growing and decaying structures, which unfortunately for Hegel, can’t be constrained in such a manner. Once again there are constraints, but this time, instead of constraining your general freedom, they’re constraining your freedom of common sense, they are making you believe that everything makes sense within a single framework. Whereas the only framework which can intuit the whole is one which is ever-changing, dynamic and fluid. So then we have this singular representation of reality which we abide by and try to form all things to fit, such a way of thinking is purely identification.
Identification and consciousness (pure awareness) are opposites of each other, you can’t identify and continue to be conscious of yourself, it’s simply not possible. When you believe you desire a certain food you’re identifying with something, possibly with some advert which has ahold of your will. When you identify with a character from a TV show, you’re identifying with a box-of-tropes made for your consumption; someone else’s idea of what it is you should be. Your experience of these singular stories isn’t meant to include your consciousness of your engaging with them, they are the master and you are the slave. But it’s not the story itself which acts as master, but the authority you allow it.
Think of identification as a form of fascination or subtle hypnosis, the more you identify with something, be it a story of personality, the more it takes you away and takes away from you. You even identify with emotions, especially negative ones. The problem with identification is that it’s often apathetic, like watching TV, it doesn’t actually take any effort to identify. It’s just something that happens. One moment you’re consciously sitting down, the next you’re believing in the creation of ego.
You wake up and identify with a certain kind of Western life, filled with comforts, enjoyments and entertainment. You get in your car and identify with a form of normalcy and work, believing it’s the thing that good, normal people do. You identify with the need to promote excess chatter and fill the workplace with random opinions on things you didn’t really pay attention to. You identify with lunch-breaks even though you’re not hungry, productivity reports even though nothing of merit has been produced and most of all, you subconsciously identify with the idea that this is how it is, and this is how a person is formed, slowly, with no shocks.
Step back. What stories, narratives and structures are you identifying with? You wake up at a certain because… And that life you identify with, the 2-up-2-down 5-day working week life, the one you were taught in school, did you ever step back to see how much of your identity had been formed around this thing you never had any say in? What about work, commuting, eating certain things, chatting, opinions, productivity and complacency, did you ever stop to question whether or not ‘you’ (your ‘I’) had been built upon false building blocks, on foundations which aren’t supporting your authentic self, but simply dragging it under?
And that’s the story of the average Western person isn’t it? Identification with presupposed normalcy. 8 hours work, 8 hours at home, 8 hours asleep, 3 meals a day, suburban housing, 1 hour commutes, unquestioned-enjoyment, no striving. That’s the problem with identity and identification, it builds an idea of what you supposedly are without the actual you ever interjecting. Fortunately, it only builds externally, but these external barriers can be quite tough to break. But guess what? They can’t be broken externally, an internal flame is needed, a deep-seated desire to be prepared to suffer and undertake training and exercises, finding yourself takes discipline and work, especially in a world which means and wishes for you to become lost.
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